Co-operation: The Spirit of Capital


Ok, I’ll try another tactic. Earlier I said Forget ‘Capital’… why? It was really a trick, one that is so obvious that it probably went by without even being recognized. What was it? Think on it: when Marx reversed Hegelian thought what was the element he tried to expunge?

Marx will describe it as the ‘spirit of cooperation’ in which “numerous workers work together side by side in accordance with a plan, whether in the same process, or in different but connected processes, this form of labour is called co-operation”.1 He’ll go on to say,

“Although a number of men may be simultaneously occupied together on the same work, or the same kind of work, the labour of each, as a part of the labour of all, may correspond to a distinct phase of the labour process; and as a result of the system of co-operation, the object of labour passes through the phases of the process more quickly than before.”

This “more quickly than before” is the spirit of capitalism that informs accelerationist dynamics, a speed philosophy that de-humanizes humans into machinic processes of ‘labour-power’ under the auspices of abstract gods, the Capitalists. Here comes the crux:

“the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour… arises from co-operation itself. When the worker co-operates in a planned way with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species. As a general rule, workers cannot co-operate without being brought together: their assembly in one place is a necessary condition for their co-operation. Hence wage-labourers cannot co-operate unless they are employed simultaneously by the same capital, the same capitalist, and therefore unless their labour-powers are bought simultaneously by him.”

Read that again: capitalism is this system of cooperation under the power and command of one who owns their labour power already. The worker stripped of his individuality becomes something else, develops into an assemblage of co-operating species beings in a machinic process planned and executed by Marx’s metaphor for the one who owns them as ‘labour-powers’. They are no longer humans as-individuals, but rather labour-powers in a machinic process regulated and controlled at the behest of capital, and its owner – the capitalist.

Therefore this system that strips humans of their humanity, of their species relations; and, causes them to become abstractions – ‘labour-power’ in a co-operative assemblage under the ‘spirit of capital’ is this system Marx reduced to the metaphor of Capital. As Marx will say,

“Their unification into one single productive body, and the establishment of a connection between their individual functions, lies outside their competence. These things are not their own act, but the act of the capital that brings them together and maintains them in that situation. Hence the interconnection between their various labours confronts them, in the realm of ideas, as a plan drawn up by the capitalist, and, in practice, as his authority, as the powerful will of a being outside them, who subjects their activity to his purpose.”

In this sense the Capitalist is the Savage God of the Workers who are nothing more than the unified body of machinic processes as abstract ‘labour-powers’ that he can switch on and off, move and shape to his will to do his bidding as he sees fit. The Capitalist is nothing more or less than the theological fulfillment of God on Earth as the ‘intelligence of evil’ (Baudrillard). That in a nutshell is the ‘spirit of co-operation’ according to Capital.

1. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 6588-6592). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Joshua Simon on Neo-Materialism

“…a new set of sensibilities has been introduced in critical contemporary art, dealing with the ways in which the commodity and its surrounding economy activate us.”

        – Johsua Simon

Joshua Simon has a three-part series on at e-flux journal Neo-Materialism, Part I: The Commodity and the Exhibition. He brings up Sven Lütticken’s essay “Art and Thingness” that  examines the art object as a transient object subjected to commodification through a series of processes. What simon points out is the neglect within Lütticken’s otherwise interesting essay is an examination of “commodity as an entity prior to the art object, , as the thing that precedes any object, including art objects.” His essay focuses on “on contemporary art objects within the framework of the exhibition—a form of seeing that allows an encounter with the art object as commodity. Even when artists, curators, critics, and spectators opt for an intimate, narrative, symbolic, critical, or any other understanding of objects, in an exhibition objects nevertheless converse in the language of commodities. While formalistic analysis reveals that this non-literal language involves materials, colors, shapes, scale, and composition, what is it exactly that the objects say?”